Tripartite meeting opens

The opening session started at 5:19 p.m. (10:19 p.m. in Manila) with Peace Process Undersecretary Nabil Tan heading the Philippine delegation and the MNLF delegation headed by lawyer Randolph Parcasio. MNLF chair Nur Misuari, who was unable to come even as he was earlier granted by the court permission to attend the meeting here, made his presence felt through a 38-minute speech read by MNLF spokesperson Al Tillah, questioning, among others, the legality of the government’s ongoing peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (see separate story).

Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, OIC Secretary-General, said he contacted both parties “to try to find a way out of this dangerous deadlock,” noting that when he assumed the post two years ago, the situation between the GRP and MNLF “was moving from bad to worse and the gap between the two parties was widening.”

“Each side has a different assessment of the implementation of the agreement. The yesterday peace partners were marching rapidly towards confrontation that could become dangerous.”

Ihsanoglu said the meeting will focus on assessment of the implementation process, “defining the obstacles and devising the solutions.”

He acknowledged this is a “huge task” that cannot be accomplished in one or two sessions.

The 1996 FPA was the first peace agreement successfully brokered by the OIC.

The three-day Tripartite Meeting here will be handled by the “Peace Committee,” an expanded version of the Committee of the Eight. The Committee of the Eight had earlier been tasked by the OIC to handle the peace negotiations between the GRP and the MNLF.

The Committee of the Eight is headed by Indonesia. Its other members are Bangladesh, Brunei, Libya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Somalia. The Peace Committee comprises the Committee of the Eight and Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan as the chair of the International Conference of Foreign Ministers.

For this Tripartite Meeting, the OIC convened an “expanded” Committee of the Eight or what is now being referred to as the “Peace Committee.”

Indonesia’s Ambassador Rezlan I. Jenie, deputy minister for multilateral affairs of Indonesia is chairing the Tripartite Meeting  vice Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda who had to attend to urgent matters in Indonesia.

Jenie said it is important to have an “exchange of general observations on the issue of implementation, and from that to gather all the issues covering its progress as well as its obstacles.”

“We need to find out problems without finger-pointing, and to harness aspirations without recriminations,” he said.

Jenie said that based on the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, “the next challenges will mainly be on the strengthening of the institutional capacity of the autonomy and implementing further measures on the economic and socio-cultural aspects of the Agreement.

He said the role of the OIC is “paramount in ensuring financial and technical assistance needed to implement the Agreement.”

Referring to the Tripartite Meeting as a “most awaited process,” Tan said the Philippine government comes to the meeting with “high hopes and confident desire that we could reach a consensus – how to push forward the peace process with the MNLF.

The Philippine government is also talking peace with the MILF, a group that split from the MNLF in the late 1970s.Misuari in a statement read by Tillah, warned that if the government chooses to “push through with its alleged plan to sign another peace agreement with a splinter group from the MNLF, then the MNLF leadership will be presented with a ‘do or die’ option.” (see separate story)

Tan said his delegation is “not here to argue relentlessly on perceived challenges and accomplishments. We are here to reach an agreement, Insha Allah, on how to resolve the bottlenecks, to maintain an open mind and think out of the box on how to move the process forward.”

Tan also pointed to the factions within the present MNLF structure. “If indeed, we want to serve our fellow Bangsamoro peole, now is the time to strengthen the bond of brotherhood and friendship, and pursue common grounds of cooperation.”

“Inclusivity and representation of all groups is a must to achieve success – a just and lasting peace for all,” said Tan, vice governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) from 1993 to 1996 and member of the government peace panel negotiating with the MNLF also during the same period.

Parcasio said it is the “commitment of the MNLF to resolve the obstacles that have deterred us from moving forward.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)